Grades Trump Test Scores for College Admissions, Report Reveals

Posted By Terri Williams on October 17, 2016 at 10:28 am
Grades Trump Test Scores for College Admissions, Report Reveals

Students agree – and their parents confirm – that the college admissions process generates stress. Taking tests – the SAT, ACT, and AP exams – tops the stress list, according to the Princeton Review’s 2016 Hopes and Worries Report. So it may come as a relief to know that college admissions officers consider grades much more important than test scores, according to a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The table below shows the percentage of colleges attributing considerable and moderate importance to the following factors:

FACTOR Considerable Importance Moderate Importance
Grades in College Prep Courses 79.20% 13.00%
Grades in All Courses 60.30% 31.00%
Strength of Curriculum 60.20% 26.80%
Admission Test Scores (SAT, ACT) 55.70% 32.50%
Essay or Writing Sample 22.10% 39.00%
Counselor Recommendation 17.30% 42.40%
Student’s Demonstrated Interest 16.90% 33.30%
Teacher Recommendation 15.20% 43.50%
Class Rank 14.00% 37.70%
Subject Test Scores (AP, IB) 7.00% 35.20%
Portfolio 6.60% 10.00%
Extracurricular Activities 5.60% 43.30%
SAT II Scores 5.30% 8.40%
Interview 3.50% 23.10%
State Graduation Exam Scores 3.50% 11.00%
Work 0.90% 21.30%

 Why grades are more important than other factors

Grades seem to provide a more comprehensive picture of a student than a one-time test score. Anita Gajula, academic coach at My College Planning Team, tells GoodCall, “A transcript always tells a story.” And Gajula says these are just some of the information that a transcript provides:

  • What classes did the student choose?
  • Did the student choose the hardest classes available to them?
  • Are there patterns that can be identified? For instance, does the student do better in reading/writing classes or math and science classes?
  • Did the student have certain years where his or her grades were stronger? Are there trends, up or down, with grades, knowing that the pressure of good grades only increases over the high school years?
  • Did the student persevere through a difficult class with some bad grades or switch to a class with less rigor?

Gajula says “Anyone who looks at transcripts often will have these questions and thoughts.” She explains that the student’s essay or recommendations from a teacher or guidance counselor might provide details of a hardship or extenuating circumstance.

However, she maintains that the transcript provides the vital information needed to help determine the student’s possible future performance. “The transcript says something about skills, strengths, weaknesses, and interests – we hope and think that a student who does well in high school will continue to do well in college.”

It’s a view that’s shared by Florence Hines, dean of admissions at McDaniel College. Hines tells GoodCall, “Our admissions staff talks about the five Ps of admission, which are – in order of importance – program, performance, participation, personality and potential.”

The school considers program to be the most important admission factor. “This means that we assess a student’s transcript for course difficulty and rigor of course selection, not just a grade point average.” Hines says there’s a certain combination of courses counselors believe provide the best preparation for college. “When available, we prefer to see a mix of AP (College Board Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) and honors courses.”

And then, Hines says they look at a student’s performance and search for trends in the grades (up, down, stable), grades in all courses, and class standing – when this information is available.

What about standardized tests?

Many people believe that standardized tests don’t provide a lot of information about the student.  “They are an oversimplification of too many variables,” Gajula says. A test score may raise more questions than it answers. When admissions teams are looking at a test score, Gajula says they may be wondering:

  • Did the student prepare for the exam?
  • Was a typically strong student ill during the exam or just a poor test taker?
  • What are we actually testing?
  • Do we actually think that a student with a lower score is not going to be successful?

And since consistency is so important, Gajula reiterates the importance of a student’s transcript. “A transcript has the richest data and story to tell us; one standardized test score, one GPA and one class ranking are too simplified, and no human being wants to simply be a number.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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